Blue Jackets-Blackhawks Preview
Brandon Saad hoisted the Stanley Cup the last time he was on the United Center ice. He’s yet to experience a victory since.
Saad returns to Chicago for the first time since his trade to Columbus as the Blue Jackets seek an elusive first win in Friday’s clash with the Blackhawks.
Salary cap issues forced Chicago (2-3-0) to part with several key contributors to its third championship in six seasons, with the seven-player deal that sent Saad to Columbus among the most notable and difficult decisions after the 22-year-old set career highs of 23 goals and 52 points in 2014-15.
Saad has so far justified the six-year, $36 million contract he received from his new team by scoring three goals in five games, all regulation losses during the worst start in Blue Jackets’ history.
Poor defense is most to blame for Columbus’ struggles. Sergei Bobrovsky has allowed four or more goals in all five games and the Blue Jackets have surrendered a league-high 26, half coming in their two most recent defeats.
After yielding five unanswered goals to Ottawa in a 7-3 home loss on Wednesday, Columbus permitted three over the final 16 minutes of Friday’s 6-3 setback to visiting Toronto.
"You’ve got to stick to the plan, you’ve got to stay with it and what you do as an individual to be successful, what we need as a team to be successful," coach Todd Richards said. "When we lose it, we’ve given up great opportunities and right now the opponents are cashing in."
The 1995-96 San Jose Sharks were the last team to allow more goals (27) in their first five games.
Bobrovsky owns a 5.07 goals-against average and .835 save percentage, but he stopped 74 of 78 shots in winning both of his 2014-15 starts against Chicago (2-3-0), which is still adjusting to the departures of Saad and four-time 30-goal scorer Patrick Sharp.
The Blackhawks have just 10 goals in five games and return home after being outscored 7-1 in consecutive road losses to Philadelphia and Washington. They went scoreless for 107 minutes, 46 seconds before Viktor Svedberg scored his first NHL goal with an assist from ex-Blue Jacket Artem Anisimov early in the third period of Thursday’s 4-1 defeat to the Capitals.
”I mean, we’re not happy with how we played the last few games,” center Marcus Kruger said. ”All of us have got to get better and take responsibility.”
A 2 for 17 performance on the power play has coincided with the Blackhawks’ slump, though Columbus has allowed five goals while short-handed over its last four.
Chicago looks to bounce back against an opponent it’s dominated in recent years. Though Bobrovsky backstopped Columbus to victories in last season’s two meetings, the Blackhawks had won 13 straight in the series prior to that.
The Blue Jackets were outscored 25-9 during an 0-5-1 stretch at the United Center they ended with a 5-2 win on March 27, in which Bobrovsky made 31 saves and Cam Atkinson registered a hat trick.
Corey Crawford, who allowed four goals in less than 16 minutes in that game, figures to return for Chicago after Scott Darling started Thursday. Crawford had 26 saves in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss in Philadelphia, five days after making 34 in a 3-2 overtime win at the New York Islanders.